Giovedì, 18 Ottobre 2018
NUORO

Pardoned Sardinian bandit returns to crime

English
© ANSA

(By Denis Greenan).
Nuoro, June 10 - Sardinia's most famous former bandit
was setting himself up to be the island's new drugs lord before
his arrest Monday, police said.
Graziano Mesina, a hero to many in the 1960 and 1970s for
his supposedly anti-capitalist kidnappings, daring prison breaks
and glamorous lifestyle on the run, had also returned to his old
stock-in-trade and was plotting to kidnap prominent Oristano
businessman Luigi Russo.
Mesina gave himself up to police Monday morning after being
woken from his bed in his sister's house in Orgosolo, a large
town on the fringes of the infamous and impenetrable Barbagia
highlands where Sardinia's gangs kept their hostages until the
1980s.
"He didn't resist, he almost seemed to be expecting us,"
said the commander of the operation that netted another 26
people on Sardinia and in Calabria.
"He wasn't armed, unlike the others".
Mesina, 71, who was pardoned by former Italian President
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi after more than 50 years in and out of jail
in 2004, was arrested on suspicion of criminal conspiracy to
traffic drugs.
His "marked propensity for crime and personal charisma had
enabled him to enlist a whole new generation of recruits,"
police said.
"He was already borrowing many of the characteristics of the
main mafias (Cosa Nostra, 'Ndrangheta and Camorra).
"If he had had more time he could have created a very strong
criminal organisation, very dangerous for the island".
Mesina had been in touch with "notorious drug circles in
Milan with a view to dealing in heroin and cocaine," said
investigators who revealed the probe was opened five years ago,
in 2008.
Police said Mesina, who was last arrested in 1993 to serve
life for a string of kidnappings, had already scouted ahead for
his planned kidnapping and had given his underlings "a host of
crucial details" about Russo, a wealthy clothing wholesaler.
He had already made "preparatory" reconnaissance trips to
Russo's home twice, police said.
Mesina was considered the historical leader of the infamous
Sardinian kidnapping gangs and his exploits brought him mythical
status among Italian criminals.
He attempted to escape from prison 22 times, and did succeed
in 10 spectacular jailbreaks, after which he would hide out with
girlfriends in various parts of Sardinia including the capital,
Cagliari, where he donned disguise to follow the famous soccer
team that won the Serie A title in 1970 thanks to the
goal-scoring feats of Gigi 'Thunderbolt' Riva.
Even earlier, when in hiding in the Sardinian mountains in
the late 1960s, bags of fan mail from mostly female admirers
arrived for him from all over the world.
Viewed from the outside, and also from many on the political
left both inside and outside Italy, the Sardinian
shepherds-turned-bandits were romantic figures fighting to
preserve a lifestyle threatened by modernity, as well as
representing a spirit of anti-capitalist rebellion.
One Mesina's most surprising admirers was the long-time dean
of Italian journalism, conservative writer Indro Montanelli.
The bandit's rugged and solitary image appeared to appeal to
the strong libertarian streak of Montanelli, whose visceral
anti-Communism did not prevent him siding with some of
capitalism's outsiders.
But for most others, outlaws of Mesina's ilk were just
ruthless criminals who would not shrink from murdering victims
if things went wrong.
Mesina was first put up for a possible pardon in 1991 but
anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, who had been briefly
shunted aside to run the Italian jail system before returning to
the front lines and dying in a Cosa Nostra bombing in 1992,
refused to pass on then Italian President Francesco Cossiga's
recommendation.
Ciampi, in granting the pardon in 2004, said he was
confident Mesina "would turn over a new leaf" - and he seemed to
have done so by setting up a profitable tourist business in the
heart of his old hostage-hiding country.
"But he just couldn't get away from the old life," police
said Monday.

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